No lurch to the left

The Tories would be unwise to believe their own spin about Jon Cruddas's appointment to head Labour'

It was hardly a shuffle, more like a shimmy. Ed Miliband has made some changes to his top team in response to the departure of Peter Hain from the office of shadow Secretary of State for Wales. His replacement is Owen Smith, a generally well-rated MP from the 2010 intake who seems to have made a wide range of friends and few enemies in his short time in parliament.

But the move that has generated the most attention is the handing of responsibility for the party’s policy review to Jon Cruddas. The Dagenham MP has a high profile in the party and has been pestered by various people to take a front line ever since his unsuccessful but much admired (in Labour circles; unnoticed anywhere else) campaign for the deputy leadership in 2007.

The appointment has been vacuously branded by Conservatives a “lurch to the left”. This is presumably a half-hearted attempt to re-animate the spectre of “Red Ed” as a kind of default jibe in the absence of more imaginative ways to insult the Labour leader. Anyone who knows Cruddas, has followed his career or listened to his arguments will know he is plainly not a reactionary big state union-hugging lefty from central casting. He was an advisor to Tony Blair and a supporter of David Miliband’s leadership bid in 2010. He was a critic of big state models of welfare spending as ineffective in dealing with stubborn social problems back in the days when budget constraints were not even part of the discussion.

He has dedicated considerable thought to an acute dilemma in modern British politics: how to address the insecurity, disorientation and disempowerment that many feel in response to globalised economic forces without indulging in illiberal strains of protectionism and atavistic nationalism. One criticism sometimes heard of Cruddas is that he is long on elegant analysis of a problem, short on solution.

By contrast, that allegation is never made against Lord Andrew Adonis, Gordon Brown’s transport secretary and architect of the Academy Schools programme under Tony Blair. He has been recruited to feed thoughts on industrial strategy into the policy review. That is being interpreted in some quarters as a symbolic hire to indicate that Blairish ideas are tolerated in Miliband’s Labour party. There was certainly appetite for such a gesture since Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary who has been kicked off the policy review, is considered a fanatical Blairite by the kind of people who still care about such labels. (That is, most of the media and a large but diminishing section of the parliamentary Labour party.)

If Adonis is going to be empowered to take serious decisions about the direction of Labour policy on reforming the economy, infrastructure and strategic investment, he and Cruddas will make a formidable pairing. Indeed, it is hard to believe that the Tories seriously believe their own spin about a sudden surge of Trotskyism at the Labour top table. Surely they are not so crude in their analysis or so ignorant of Labour thinking. Miliband must be hoping they are and that his enemies, not for the first time, are busy underestimating him.

Update: In Prime Minister's Questions today David Cameron used the appointment of Jon Cruddas as a device to attack Ed Miliband for apparent cosiness with trade unions and for revealing his supposedly sinister leftist impulses. It was a desperate lunge suggesting that the Tories do indeed know nothing about Cruddas other than what they must have hastily found on Wikipedia this morning. If they want a more nuanced view they should start with Gaby Hinsliff's profile for the Guardian here and, of course, some of the pieces he has written for the Statesman here.

 

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn become historical investigations because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.